Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
West Lafayette, Ohio
December 7, 1986
The Virgin Birth
Isaiah 7:10-16, NIV
The Virgin Birth is one of the most beautiful doctrines in the Bible. It is also one of the most controversial because the Virgin Birth goes against any scientific reasoning. To our ears it may sound more like a myth or fairy take than an historical fact.
Large numbers of people reject the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Twenty-five years ago [now almost 45!], in August 1961, Redbook Magazine published a survey of what young men in seminary believed. Each of them was planning to become a Protestant minister. How many accepted Virgin Birth? Only 44%. More than half - 56% - rejected it. If pastors don't believe it, you can't expect people in the pew to believe it.
I believe in the Virgin Birth. And I want you to know why I believe in it, and why it is important.
There are three main passages in the Bible. The first is in Isaiah 7. It was written more than 700 years before Jesus was born. The setting (context) of this passage is that the Jewish King, Ahaz, is about to be attacked by two foreign nations. As verse two says, this moved him emotionally. Translation: He was terrified. There was no way he could withstand them.
But God knew otherwise. He sent the prophet Isaiah to the King. His message is in verse 7 - your enemies will not win. They won't even attack. To confirm the promise, Isaiah tells Ahaz to pick a sign. Any sign. But he refused. In verse 12 Ahaz sounds very pious - "I will not put God to the test." The truth of the matter is that Ahaz didn't trust God. According to 2 Kings, Ahaz already had plans to become allied with a pagan super-power. He had no faith, just schemes. So he puts Isaiah off.
This is why Isaiah rebukes Ahaz in verse 13. The prophet gives him a sign anyway: a virgin will have a son named Immanuel. By the time the child can understand right from wrong, God will judge the enemies and save his people.
This passage is so important we have to dig deeper. Who is the virgin? The word in Hebrew is "alma", which means a young, unmarried woman. Virginity and good character are implied by it. Since the sign is given to Ahaz, many believe the woman would have been alive in Isaiah's day. Their current enemies will be destroyed in the child's lifetime. The virgin according to some was Isaiah's wife. But "alma" only refers to unmarried women. Others say it was an unidentified woman in Isaiah's day.
There is nothing wrong with a Bible-believing Christian accepting this. Up to a point. The sign was for that day. But it would not have been completely fulfilled then. Much of the prophecy points to the future (at most, a double fulfillment.)
For example, the sign was not just to Ahaz. Verse 13 says it was given to the whole house of David, which is the dynasty of all the Jewish kings. The name of the child is "Immanuel" which means "God With Us." A normal child would not represent this. And a normal woman would not be much of a sign. Other passages show that Isaiah was expecting a future child to do great things. Turn to Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 through 7:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom....
The virgin's son is to be the Messiah. What is ambiguous in the Old Testament is made explicit in the New Testament. Turn to Matthew 1:18-23:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" -- which means, "God with us."
The tie-in with Isaiah 7:14 is not Matthew's interpretation. It is made clear by the angel. This passage goes to great lengths to show Mary conceived as a virgin. Verse 18 - "before they came together, she was found to be with child". Verse 25 - "[Joseph] had no union with her until she gave birth to a son." The word Matthew uses for virgin is "parthenos". It means just that - a virgin. Matthew also places much emphasis on how it all came about. Verses 18 and 20 make it clear that God did it.
The final Bible passage is Luke 1:26-38. Many times the Gospels sound alike, even word-for-word. But not the account of Jesus' birth. That's why you don't find wise men with shepherds in one passage. Matthew and Luke are giving independent testimony here.
In verse 27, Luke stresses Mary was a virgin. Verse 32 ties in Jesus with the throne and dynasty of David. And in verse 35, Luke gives the clearest explanation of how it happened. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived.
One passage in the Bible comes close to this - Genesis 1:2. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The birth of Jesus is a special creation. Not of Jesus, himself, because many passages tell us Jesus has existed forever. But in his birth, a human body is created for him by the power of God.
Some people say the Bible says very little about the virgin birth. But every passage that deals with the infancy of Jesus mentions it. Even other passages have allusions. In John 8:41 the enemies of Jesus respond to him: "We are not illegitimate children." In other words - we weren't, you were. Every orthodox group in Christianity believes in the Virgin Birth. Every creed mentions it.
It is one thing to say that it happened. It's another thing to know what it means (or stands for). When you think about it, Jesus could have come in a variety of ways. God could have dropped him from heaven like a brick - or appeared like an angel. But there is a special reason he came like he did. If he had dropped like a brick, he would have been an alien creature. By being born of a woman, he would be just like us. Jesus was a human being in every sense of the word, except that he didn't have a sin nature. Because he was a person like us, we can relate to him.
On the other hand, if Jesus was just a person, he wouldn't be any different from us. At most, he would be a great teacher or a moral leader. To have the power to change us, he had to be God. And he was. His divine nature is shown by the special circumstances of his birth, especially the action of the Holy Spirit. He was unique in that his mother was human, but his father was God. Jesus had to be human to relate to us. But he had to be God, in order to save us.
Some people do not accept this. They feel uncomfortable with something so out of the ordinary, so they try to explain it away. A few would argue that it was a real virgin birth but it doesn't have to be a miracle. Virgin rabbits, for example, have given birth. But the offspring are really clones. They are exactly like their mother. If this was how Jesus was born, it would by more appropriate to call him Crystal instead of Christ.
Others argue that the virgin birth is a legend, just like the kind found in other religions and societies. The world has many stories of where God has sexual relations with a young girl, and a superhuman is born. But if you look closely, all the alleged parallels evaporate. In pagan myths, God has sex with a girl. The stories are very carnal. In the Bible, there is no sex between God and Mary. She conceives by a miracle alone. Serious scholars agree that the Virgin Birth in the Bible has no relation to stories in other religions.
The Virgin Birth cannot be explained away. You either accept it, or reject it. It is clearly taught in the Bible and makes good theological sense. All true Christians have always considered it a fundamental doctrine.
The only reason to reject the Virgin Birth is because you reject the supernatural. And if you reject the supernatural, Christianity goes with it. Because the virgin birth is not the most outlandish miracle in the Scripture. The Resurrection of Jesus is. And without that, our salvation is meaningless.
If the Bible is true, our responsibility is clear. Accept Christ and all that the Bible says about him. Relate to him as a human and worship him as your God.
Typed on January 13, 2005, by Wendy Ventura of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey
First Baptist Church; Ledgewood, New JerseyThis document last modified December 18, 2006